Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Arriving in Cape Town
The journey from Nairobi to Cape Town was a long one. But we were thankful for that journey. After all we had experienced, walking into our room at the Camp's Bay guesthouse and finding the above view was tremendous relief. Before talking about the joys of our new environment, one last story from our time in East Africa will help explain our feelings about finally reaching Cape Town.
Prelude to Breakfast in Bed
We woke the first morning of the trip delirious from a few hours sleep on the heels of a really long series of flights. A quick peek out the window revealed our hotel's large private security force in the middle of the morning briefing. While the security force ostensibly exists to put the guests at ease, they seemed to be well-armed and highly trained; in fact, I have no doubt that the Intercontinental Hotel of Nairobi could stage a coup at a moments' notice. Given our great experience at the hotel, I suspect they could even govern effectively.
The next night, Christmas Eve, really introduced us to the joys of African travel. The morning began with our guide informing us of bus hijackings and, more immediately disconcerting, of the fact that no one had booked accommodation for Megan and me. The guide assured us that we would fine a room "probably," and we shouldn't worry. Hakuna matata.
Too tired to remain concerned and preoccupied by the various additional fees we had been surprised with, we pushed aside our worries and enjoyed the trip. Late in the evening, we pulled into the parking lot at Miserani Oasis, the guesthouse associated with the campsite where the bulk of our group would be staying, the Miserani Snake Ranch. Now, initially, the "Oasis" seemed very nice. It had large patio spaces draped in advertisements for Kilimanjaro beer, and the property was dotted with colorful trees and bushes. We were instructed to drop our bags in "Little Rhino," their equivalent of the penthouse suite: it actually had its own bathroom and a floor fan that once-upon-a-time actually stirred the dank air. Beautiful. At this point, a bed seemed lovely. We dropped our bags and headed toward the Snake Ranch for dinner and instructions on the next day's trip to Serengeti.
After a few hours at the Snake Ranch, we were dropped back at Oasis for the night. We slowly entered our room and turned on the light, which is something we instantly regretted. The light revealed some insects. And by "some insects," I really mean swarms of insects. Piles of insects. Loads of insects. I use "insects" because the numbers precluded classification. Walking around the room, I soon realized that the bugs had various degrees of crunchiness, suggesting some beetle-ish creatures. Noting the buzzing near my backside in the bathroom allowed me to classify some of them as mosquitoes. But really, the moving black carpet of creepies on the walls remains a vague frustration in my memory.
Megan, who usually panics at the thought of insects in her living space, switched into comforting rationality. While I panicked at the thought of waking to a face swollen with insect bites followed shortly by malaria and imminent death, Megan hatched a scheme. Maybe we could turn off the bedroom lights, leave on the bathroom light, and let the insects move to the bathroom while we sleep peacefully in the dark. The plan made sense except for the population we were dealing with: I doubted the doorway to the bathroom had enough space to allow this migration to occur.
Peeved, I headed to the shower to wash off the day's DEET and very quickly reapply. Initially, I noted a shower the likes of which I hadn't seen outside Honduras: a shower head with an electric heater attached to instantly heat the cold trickle while hopefully not causing instant electrocution. I didn't have long to worry about electrocution since the shower head didn't work. I did manage to get a trickle from a spigot down the wall, but even this drip quit shortly after I was completely soaked. Nice.
At this point, we realized a room change was necessary. Insects, whatever. No shower, whatever. No shower or working toilet and a plague of creatures reaching Biblical (and I mean Old Testament) proportions . . . this we could not tolerate.
So we found our innkeeper sitting in a dark restaurant. He entered the room and looked surprised. Speaking only limited and very broken English, he stated "It rained a lot." Yes, we realized the wet season allows insects an ideal breeding ground to unleash their campaign of terror. We know that. But the question to our kindly host was can we get another room. Rephrase, we knew we could get another room, how about one with some netting?
And he lead us to the Pitaya Suite, a tiny room with a mosquito net and running water in the bathroom down the hallway. Beautiful. Megan took this picture of that mosquito net . . . such was our relief.
The room was situated in a short hallway. Our window was barred, and the building could only be entered through two doors. Interestingly enough, the innkeeper, eternally vigilant, had protected us by locking both doors in such a way that neither door could be opened from the inside.
While Megan had remained calm through the great insect assault of '07, she was not so happy about our current predicament. See, Megan works in the field of emergency preparedness. She spends her days creating plans for mass casualty incidents, inventing ways to save lives from imminent destruction. One important part of preparing for an emergency is being able to exit a building in the midst of the disaster. Our current building with its thick iron bars on the windows and thicker iron doors evaded escape. Her concern, in the nature of marriage, quickly became my concern.
So, I surveyed my options. We had no phone in the building, and the innkeeper had probably retreated far away to the Oasis restaurant. I then crafted a genius solution. I walked into the bathroom which had an open window with a screen on it, and I began shouting: "Help! We need a key! We are locked in!" Then I remembered that our host spoke little English and probably would assume English being spoken was just between Megan and me. So, I tossed in the only Swahili I knew, "Jambo," or "hello." So, I began yelling loudly, "Jambo? Help? Jambo! Help? Help? Jambo!"
At this point, you might imagine, Megan was laughing at me . . . and laughing a lot. There I was in the damp bathroom, standing on the toilet, hoping for our jailer to return and give us a key for our eventual release. And Megan was not the only one laughing. By time our host returned, he could barely breathe with laughter. Asanti-sana (thank you very much) for the keys, good sir: please tell no one of this experience.
Now, insect free and having a means of escape, we could try to rest as the mother of all rain storms moved into the area . . . it was a long night. The picture below, although taken on our return to Miserani Oasis after the safari, really captures our mental attitude about the place.
And Then To Paradise
The above anecdote, along with stories from previous postings, reveals that the early part of our trip was fairly rough. That first night at Miserani Oasis was followed by the night Megan made her daring wilderness bathroom journey. Thereafter, we found ourselves on a dangerous overland trip to Dar es Salaam. While Zanzibar was glorious, in our first eight days of travel, we had crashed in eight different beds. We had packed and unpacked every day, and, with one day's exception, we spent over six hours in transport every day of the trip. We were tired . . . more than tired . . . we were zombies. New Year's Eve in Dar es Salaam, despite a massive party a few floors up, Megan and I headed to sleep around 8 o'clock. The way we figured it, we would be awake and heading to an airport by time the ball dropped in New York City: we'd celebrate New Year's then.
With this on our minds, Cape Town was amazing . . . more than amazing . . . at Cape Town, we found a restful paradise, a paradise made sweeter by the long road we had traveled to get there.